The Dallas Mavericks enter an offseason looking to upgrade their roster but have limited means to do it.
The Mavs ended a bizarre season with a first-round playoff exit that had to leave them thirsting to get back there next year. They took the Clippers to 6 games with a shorthanded roster that lost it’s second-leading scorer halfway through the series and still managed to make it a series.
The Mavs definitely feel as if they can compete with any team, but obviously want to do better than a first-round exit. Health is a factor as they were missing key players like KP (for half of the series), Jalen Brunson, and roll man Dwight Powell, but the goal of nearly every team is to get better in the offseason.
The question is: How do the Mavs do it?
First of all, this Mavs roster is far from perfect. It may have been a historically good offense, but a middling defense, finishing the year with the 12th place defense. If they want to contend, they need to try to get to a top 10 defense even if it comes at the cost of offense.
The Mavs can use some perimeter defense, some interchangeable wing defenders, and additional backup help at the 5-position. Upgrading their roster is the goal, the methods will have to be interesting, to say the least. Donnie Nelson and his team will be tested this offseason and hopefully, their recent track record will continue.
It’s about 2021.
Money is everything in the offseason, whether it’s the draft, free agency, or the trade market and the Mavs simply don’t have much to spare. There are contracts like JJ Barea and Courtney Lee that are coming off the books, but the cap is remaining flat at $109M rather than increasing, and yet the Mavs are sitting with $110.8M in guaranteed salary, so there’s very little wiggle room. And truthfully, this is by design.
This summer, the headlining free agents are Anthony Davis (via player option), Brandon Ingram (restricted), DeMar DeRozan, and Andre Drummond (both with player options) which isn’t the most exciting crop of folks. HOWEVER, the 2021 free agent class features players Giannis Antetekounmpo, Anthony Davis, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Chris Paul, and Victor Oladipo which is far more enticing to teams looking to make a push for a title.
This is all to say that any upgrades the team makes either have to be a fit worth sacrificing the opportunity to chase Giannis and the gang OR made on a 1-year deal so that the team CAN chase a “big fish” next year.
Asking a player of a high caliber to play on a 1-year deal is a dodgy proposition at best and the team signing a player that takes them out of the Giannis chase is a BIG gamble in its own right.
The big question mark for the Mavs as they enter the offseason is what Tim Hardaway Jr. will do. He has a player option his contract for next year that he can pick up that’s worth nearly $19M. He can opt into that contract and play the year out, tying up the Mavs’ books until next offseason OR he can opt-out and pursue a longer-term deal with any team he likes, including the Mavericks for whatever deal the 2 sides agree to.
While some may argue the value of Timmy’s contract, there’s no question that he was a valuable member of the Mavs this season adding 15.8 PPG on 39.8% shooting from deep. Whether or not THJ’s output is worth that contract is not up to the Mavs as it’s a player option that THJ can choose whether or not to pick up.
It’s hard to imagine him turning down nearly $19M unless he sees an opportunity to get a longer-term deal that nets more money in the long run. If THJ opts in, the Mavs shopping spree this year will basically end up being small additions that might not move the needle.
Assets are King
Since the Mavs don’t have money to blow and aren’t keen to break the bank this offseason, how can they upgrade the team? The same way they’ve upgraded the team to get their 2 best players: trades. The Mavs acquired KP from the Knicks via trade. They traded up to get Luka Doncic 2 years ago on draft night. The Mavs know how to trade and Donnie Nelson is on a hot streak at the moment, so hopefully, he can work a little magic that improves the Mavs while still keeping them flexible enough for next offseason.
There is a reason the Mavs signed all of their players to longer-term deals last summer when they had their money to spend, they’ve learned over the years that players are more valuable than cash. They valued cash since they blew up the 2011 championship team in favor of free agent flexibility and with Luka Doncic putting the team’s eye on the future, they are now valuing players over the cash. Not only do players prefer to play with players instead of cash, but teams can also trade existing contracts with each other, basically bypassing free agency altogether. Just look at the KP acquisition.
Trades allow teams to have access to players they wouldn’t normally be able to get and keep them from competing against the full open market like in free agency, which is why the Mavs loaded up last offseason with contracts that can be used as assets. Players like Maxi, Dorian and Seth can absolutely be used as trade fodder to acquire players that they need while still keeping their salary intact.
Let’s say, for instance, the Mavs want to put Goran Dragic next to Luka next season, they could trade THJ’s contract for Dragic’s soon-to-be 1-year deal and throw in their two second-round picks this year to make it valuable to the Heat. It’s a situation that costs 2 draft picks this year, but keeps the salary cap intact AND upgrades the team via trade.
It’s hard when fans get attached to players they’ve watched develop over the past few years and then talk about them as if they were trading cards, but the goal is a championship for the Mavs and you have to give something to get something. There’s no way around giving up valuable assets to improve your squad via trade.
Nothing is Impossible
And even IF the Mavs were to acquire a player this offseason via trade that would break the bank, there’s proof that it doesn’t HAVE to end their shot at the Giannis sweepstakes. The past few offseasons where teams make blockbuster trades like the Lakers for Anthony Davis or the Clippers trade for Paul George at the last minute have proven that it can be done if that’s what the players want to do. Ultimately, the star players are in control of where they play and if Giannis wants to be in Dallas, the Mavs would move heaven and earth to let him.
If the Mavs, by some miracle, manage to trade for someone like Bradley Beal who has a max salary through 2023 AND Giannis decides he wants to be in Dallas, the Mavs can trade away pieces to get as under the cap as Mark Cuban needs in order to have a super-duper team.
The point of this is to say that no matter how underwhelming the draft ends up being for the Mavs OR how uninspiring free agency might be, the Mavs might be pursuing options to improve that might not be readily apparent to fans yet will improve the team in the long run. Fans typically play checkers while GMs play chess, but that’s because they have far more information to plan with.
Trust the team that brought Luka and KP to Dallas just 2 seasons ago and vaulted us from a 33 win team to one that pushed the Clippers to 6 games in one year.
It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon and we should all be ready to run.
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